One size doesn’t always fit all. One care plan doesn’t work for everybody, and this is especially true for dementia care. People living with dementia are just that—people. Each and every one of them has a unique personality, life experiences, interests, and preferences.
Similar to the hospice movement that changed the culture of care for individuals with terminal conditions, dementia care is going through its own revolution.
The industry is moving away from the task-driven dementia care model, which focused on disease and behavior management, and turning to a new person-centered care method.

A Look At The Whole Person

Person-centered dementia care is both a philosophy and a practical approach to patient care. Also known as holistic, individualized, or patient-oriented care, it is concentrated on the whole person—not on the biomedical manifestation of a particular person’s brain functions.
The technique focuses on a patient’s emotions, strengths, and remaining abilities—not on their disabilities. This approach takes into account everyone’s needs within the context of their network of relationships, their identity, history, health, religion, and culture.
As dementia progresses, individuals can lose the ability to articulate their needs or express their feelings. However, numerous studies have revealed that people living with dementia still maintain qualities such as self-awareness, autonomy, individuality, and sense of identity.
Person-centered dementia care preserves the value of the person and enhances an individual’s personhood by promoting positive feelings, nurturing abilities, and maximizing independence.

Putting It Into Practice

Individualized dementia care starts with asking the right questions. A holistic assessment includes an analysis of a person’s medical and social history, as well as an understanding of their preferences and interests.
Often this information can be gleaned from the patient directly, but this is also where family and friends can be helpful. Understanding the person and his or her needs and wants is the first step to creating an accurate person-centered care plan.
A person with dementia often feels lost, not being able to make sense of the immediate surroundings.
Studies indicate that a person’s dementia-related behavior change and emotional stress are often caused by not knowing how to recover a sense of self and not being able to be the person they were before the illness.
Care providers, using a person-centered approach, can reintroduce a patient to his or her own identity and improve a feeling of control.
In addition to addressing basic needs like hygiene and nutrition, person-centered dementia care also addresses the core psychosocial needs of an individual living with dementia.
For example, a caregiver can foster a sense of belonging and inclusion for clients by organizing family events, helping people with dementia attend community events, and including them in discussions.

Meaningful Activities, Interactions

The person-centered dementia care approach is based on the belief that people with the disease can live fulfilling lives. With this type of positive focus, a patient can enjoy meaningful activities instead of predetermined programs.
For example, if a person used to take pleasure in gardening, providing some plastic plant pots, soil, and seedlings can offer a person a renewed sense of purpose and accomplishment.
The ability to maintain social activities and past pleasures—a key principle of patient-centered care—directly contributes to an improved quality of life for people with dementia.
What’s more, the person-centered method encourages patients to take part in activities they enjoy. For instance, if a person wants to walk barefoot in the back yard on a sunny day, it should be granted.
Little things really matter to people with dementia—it allows them to regain a lost sense of control.
A client-oriented care plan for people with dementia emphasizes their freedom of choice and improves their self-esteem. The approach promotes positive, failure-free, and social environments. As a result, care recipients feel far less anxious about their situations and more enthusiastic about their routines.
An important part of the person-centered dementia care approach is interaction, which fosters empathy and validation of a person’s emotions and individual identity. Professionals who specialize in this type of care acknowledge and respond to an individual’s feelings and provide close personal comfort.

Support The Whole Family

As it is often said, dementia doesn’t affect only those diagnosed—it affects their whole family. With this in mind, involving relatives and friends is especially important when developing a care plan.
The person-centered technique acknowledges this reality by fostering a range of relationships and encouraging connections between those involved in the process of caring.
This is also where a skilled care provider can really prove her worth by becoming a partner who offers support and education to family members, while bringing families together toward a common goal of improving the quality of life for their loved ones with dementia.

Make A Connection

In the confusing and disconnected world of dementia, professional caregivers trained in person-centered dementia care can intervene and find ways to connect an individual to their surroundings. These care providers understand what reality is like for people with dementia, enabling them to help patients make choices and even encouraging expressions of spontaneity. Providing this type of care also requires a special kind of caregiver—highly trained in dementia care, open to positive changes, and eager to make an effort to understand their patients’ needs.
This approach doesn’t just happen, however. Viewing dementia care in a new light requires individual and organizational changes, shifting power from the routinized world of most care programs and into the hands of those receiving the attention.
Despite the decreased mental and physical functions associated with dementia, it is possible to create an environment in which both a person’s physical and psychosocial needs are met, where they feel valued and respected and where they are treated the way they want to be treated.
This is exactly what person-centered dementia care accomplishes.
Increasingly, researchers, health care providers, and advocates are working on finding treatment options or even a cure for dementia.
Although it is still not possible to influence the progression of the disease, it is feasible to influence the quality of life for people living with the ailment.
Inspiring a dementia care culture change is a long process, but as care providers and advocates for people living with dementia, it’s time to embrace change and focus on delivering person-centered dementia care.
Jennifer Tucker, vice president of Homewatch CareGivers, a national home care company that utilizes the Pathways to Memory™ program, has worked in case management, corporate wellness, women’s health, and health education. She can be reached at